no. 4

Bricolage, a design approach for local emergent technologies:
electronic-performance tools and the vanity apocalypse

Nancy Mauro-Flude


The clue lies there...The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum. -Philip K. Dick

I am the performer, and you are the audience and this is not real...

The objective of my work is to extend critical reflection about the aesthetics of live electronic performance tools and to invigorate a discussion about the meaningful contexts in which live acts (can possibly) take place. By amplifying my thoughts about the necessity of a live performance to speak out of a visceral alignment with their subject, my aim is to re-imagine, re-define and explore the potentiality and limitations of electronic performance tools. Namely how the choice of this tool and interface nearly always gives rise to new situations that must be tackled. Therefore this critical analysis addresses the implications about emerging design approaches when digital media, software and hardware, are used in a live performance.

This perspective follows along with the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce, the postmodern trait of 'dehumanization', as redefined by literary theorist Ihab Hassan, and with the structuralist anthropology models of Claude Levi Strauss, especially to his notion of bricolage. Thereby, addressing the material aesthetics of performance tools used in contemporary electronic performance, by artists who engage with such technologies, I critically analyse and historically place artistic engagement with tools and interfaces in contemporary performance settings and to indicate where there is room for new design approaches and hence, new (and forgotten) modes of performance to unfold.

miscere utile dulci

There is no such thing as a vicious or evil work of art, it is always subordinated to a higher purpose. Its purpose might be to show that vicious and evil people are merely poor creatures who do not know how to free themselves from their unfortunate predicament Valeska Gert (1931: 13).

It is impossible in this short text to expand upon all of the enchanting phenomena of the many artists who opened up spaces of potentiality in the performing arts genre. But allow me to take you on a short roller-coaster ride to revisit a few people I consider of great importance, because they held the conviction that one's sociality was not a block to performance but the necessary precondition of any communication. Thankfully Bertold Brecht, theatre theorist and playwright eclipsed these reductive categories, when he stated about the co-constitution of entertainment and profundity,

'But science and art meet on this ground, that both are there to make men's life easier, the one setting out to maintain, the other to entertain us. In the age to come art will create entertainment from that new productivity which can so greatly improve our maintenance, and in itself, if only it is left unshackled, may prove to be the greatest pleasure of them all (1957: 185).'

For Brecht, art and entertainment should be one in the same, his key point as described earlier in the concept of Verfremdung (making strange) is that audience awareness should be privileged over confining a totalitarian identity where art is mirror for reality.

Often during the communion of performance, ordinary place, space and time disappear into illusion (or virtuality) it transcends the mere need for identification, and creates an opening out of experience, that is if, as Gay McAuley notes, 'the spectator is to be seen as a crucial and active agent in the creative process (1999: 235) [my italics]' . This is precisely the element I experience is often being neglected with the use of new interfaces in performance and in retrospect the 1700s seems almost progressive. Jan Lazardzig gives an account how,

novelty and curiosity were the most significant attributes for the perception of machines. Relating to the audience is necessary in bridging the gap between illusion and utility, and allows the machine to become an object of admiration and therefore be guaranteed to “function.” Accordingly, the machine denotes a technique of persuasion, defining perspectives and actions (2007, 153). [my italics]

From this period theatrical machines and interfaces fathomed a great sense of awe and mystery, which lured some of the greatest minds in history to suspended their disbelief. This alien ability to inspire curious minds has proliferated into a multiplication of perspectives, opinions and insights, which in fact led to new inventions and is partially responsible for what we know today as the computer! The beginnings of computing have strong ties with awe and illusion. A particular theatrical and automated performance that evenwas so impressive in its theatrical nature of the computer by looking to the automated chess player embodied by the famous act of the Turk.[0] Thanks to the showmanship, ingenuity, and discretion of all of The Turk’s caretakers, he served not only to entertain audiences around the world, but helped lay the groundwork for serious consideration into the realm of artificial intelligence.

Sadly the resonances and voices from these predecessors remain but I fear this work reaches the public domain diluted, manipulated and in many cases it has not yet reached us at all. Many acts of creative censorship endured by these artists indicates that something crucially political was at issue with these peoples' artistic output, at the time. For instance electronic music performance began its development in the early twentieth century. By electronic developers like Leon Theremin, who invented the 'theremin' that was initially 'the product of Russian government sponsored research into proximity sensors.'[0.1] Theremin was especially interested in a role for the haptic instrument 'theremin' in accompaniment for dance because it would react to dancers' gestures. He also developed the listening device well know as the spy 'bug'. [0.1] Tragically, Theremin was kidnapped around 1930 and taken back to the Soviet Union, on Joseph Stalin's order, he was imprisoned to work in a 'Sharashka' lab in order to research scientific and technological problems for the state government for more than a decade.

The substance, and commitment of these politically alert predecessors whose rigour and intensity in striving to rescue the social body from the limiting yoke of purity and restrictive schemata was their driving force is not to be dismissed. Objects and new electronic interfaces for use in performance have always been emblematic of deception, trickery, charlatanism and healing (often combined) in many, perhaps all cultures. In his discussions upon 'Machine as spectacle' Lazardzig (2007) confirms for us this curious and potent ability of theatrical machines. He recounts a comment by Leibniz from the the 1600s,

Leibniz wonders if cheats should be allowed into theaters or not. Finally he comes to the conclusion that gambling must remain the nucleus of the entire project, because in play even deception entails a healing effect. “Games would provide the best excuse in the world to begin such a useful thing for the public, since one needs to fool people, to profit from their weakness and to deceive in order to heal. There is nothing better than using machines for introducing wisdom. This truly means miscere utile dulci and to make medicine from poison” (2007:172).

As is often the case, where there is poison there also appears what cures or anoints, this elemental law that has its paradoxical roots in the understanding our habitat and is well worth considering as computers begin to take the center stage of many of our daily lives.

Here Malcolm McLaren discusses consumer gadgets that conjure up a strange sort of vanity based on form and surface, and which is becoming more and more removed from human complexity,

...stifled by the tyranny of the new. New corporate lifestyles for doing everything well. Too well. iPod this. PowerBook that. Listening to albums, like Madonna's latest, that were made using Pro Tools software that reduces virtually every mix down effect to a mouse click left me with a depressing sense of sameness, like everything on TV (2003:1).

It is quite dangerous how far the focus upon disembodying projections, as a form of entertainment and pleasure is developing. These theories are crystallised when we take a look at the immanent ability of global broadcast media to seep into the daily lives of many humans, where less and less attention is paid to how people actually live in, perceive, and invest their local habitats with meaning. Recently a provocative 'Invitation' on nettimel threw the necessity of live music into high relief Bill Drummond (2007) from the KLF writes,

Thus as we edge our way deeper into the 21st Century we will begin to want music that can not be listened to wherever, whenever while doing whatever. We will begin to seek out music that is both occasion and place specific, music that can never be merely a soundtrack. We will demand music where we are no longer just the consumers, unwitting or otherwise.

If we can agree a live performance is the processural sharing of place, time and space between performer and audience. The complex relationship of people to places has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as global conditions of exile, displacement, and inflamed borders, to say nothing of struggles by indigenous peoples and cultural minorities for ancestral homeland rights, and retention of sacred places and ritual sites. A certain neglect of what it means to be intimate brought about by easy access to internet and commodification of performing arts brings these political questions of place into sharper focus.

This ability to acknowledge ones locality in specific relation to emergent technologies used in performance, is honed in on by McLaren. Here he writes enthusiastically for the 'new kind of folk music for the digital age';

Chip musicians can be found all over the world, but they're mostly in places where Game Boys are popular ...They like being pop culture pirates, and they have little use for the mass market. Their output is deliberately inaccessible to radio and TV, indeed to anyone in the music industry who still believes in hifi. At this stage, they don't necessarily aspire to have an audience beyond that of their own choosing, which means friends. This will probably change. Most early punk gigs the ones that are continually mythologised had audiences of about 20 people, though today it seems like everyone was there (2003: 3).

Above all, whether chip music or punk was fantastic or not, the dramatic gift of the performers to transport the audience, giving the justifiable impression that they were experiencing a vivid, extraordinary moment in the history in that particular time and place of thought is what counts as a galvanising and meaningful experience. Because we are integrating electronic technology into our everyday life in we can see around us how gizmo's and gadgets are open to modification to any person with a bit of ingenuity. This is not a new thing, we can trace everyday objects being used in alternative ways in the metropoles in folk instruments such as; Marleen Dietritch playing a saw with a fiddle bow in industrial Germany, or the percussion instrument of the largerphone or tea chest bass in outback Australia.

Nowadays creation of alternative interfaces and building new instruments for instance, game boy interfaces, or hacking commercial electronics for alternative uses is becoming a standard in electronic performance and artistic production. This development has spread from computer music with the creation of the MIDI protocol and popular applications like Pure Data signal Processing environment, one of the preferred programming tools for experimental digital audio/visuals.

With this advent we witness how electronic musicians put more effort into designing their own instruments, Laurie Anderson is the most famous example of someone whose eclectic instruments and performance collages transcend the barriers between visual art, dance, theatre, and music. My favorite example is Headphone Table (When You Were Here) (1978) that calls upon sound for its effect. The piece consists of a specially modified table equipped with a tape recorder that sends musical vibrations through the bodies of those who are so inclined to lean on the table. Anderson herself gives us an intimate account of how this work came into being,

I got the idea for the Handphone Table when I was typing something into an electric typewriter It wasn't going very well and I got so depressed I stopped and just put my head in my hands. That's when I heard it: a loud hum coming from the typewriter, amplified by the wooden table and running up my arms, totally clear and very loud (Goldberg, 2000: 74).

This work not only reminds us that the human hearing system not only consists of the ear but also encompasses conduction and mediation via bones, flesh, and body cavities, but by experimenting with new models of listening, Anderson takes into consideration aspects of the built environment, social spaces and imaginary architectures at the intersection of sound, space and the body.

Accessibility to cutting edge Human Interface Devices [HID] and accompanying software have greatly increased the computer artist's facilities for capturing a broad range of gestures through analogue motion sensors i.e. tilt, light, switch, accelerometers, spring, etc. In electronic instrument design, HIDs are attempts to make instruments that would not behave like an extreme prostheses to the player, whereby one can use their motoric body gesture in a more haptic way to controlling input to a sound generating device, i.e. the theremin, game controllers, foot switches, ultra sound meters.

Of course, one first has to learn how to move, programme, play and trouble shoot or bug test, these emergent tools and indeed if you are a performer in the traditional sense. Also if you interested in human communication, you have a big job ahead since you also need to think about making the audience apart of the action or be very good at captivating them into your performance landscape at the very least.

However, I always find it astonishing and ironic that even though there exists a solid knowledge base for the creation of new interfaces for performance tools with the experience gained from the early MIDI days in the 1970's experiments with experimental interfaces allowing for new gestural performances; it is usually the case at events this fourth wall remains. The performers non-representational stance, for me is still a negation of audience and further 'dehumanisation' even if the performer is not staring at a laptop and controls sound via gesture.

On the other extreme we could look at the radical theatrical nature of Kraftwerk as electronic music pioneers that embraced critical embodiment of character and wonder why they were not influential upon this more experimental genre. It is my conviction that the craft of electronic performing arts must necessarily support the imagination if we are to believe in that other, staged world; and to acknowledge that the illusion is always unfolding, beginning and ending, not just with the final curtain or when the dramatics personae remove their masks or take their bows, revealing themselves as the performers they are.


History of paraphernalia: The trash stratum.

Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality (potentiality) to their lineaments. -Alfred Jarry

We pick up the threads and vibrations from this momentous pile of knowledge, as well as from the aether around us, we are continually articulating and weaving these threads together in new combinations. This impromptu approach can be found in the notion of bricolage, widely acknowledged by Claude Levis Strauss (1966). Underlying this assumption is that people understand the world in many different ways, and therefore design problems are better understood using a tangled web of both mythical and logical modes for understanding. LevisStrauss writes,

The 'bricoleur' is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but, unlike the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purpose of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with 'whatever is at hand'(1966:19).

Like bricolage, most people have no regard for paraphernalia because it appears messy, futile or secondary; while in reality it reveals essential life processes. It puts us eye to eye with vital operations far removed from what the Western Philosophical tradition believes to be a progressive way of thinking, such as the postmodern trend of 'dehumanisation'.

The word is ultimately from Medieval Latin, as the bride's property apart from her dowry that she can dispose of at will. Personal amulets, menstruation items, talisman type gadgets, a bottle of oil, a doll, things that are usually judged as waste, trash or excessive; divination odds and ends, items that are usually prone to healing, belief in auguries or tokens for predictions.

It is undeniable that these objects and their function are positioned as questionable, dubious or taboo topics in the public domain. Instead of being bewildered at this slavish tradition, women began to attest against the subservient position of the term paraphernalia in 1791, attempting to dis-articulate the term from 'odds and ends' for a more lucid that the current term paraphernalia is vexed, it was just erased from the English Wikipedia, stating it was too insignificant. Thankfully it remains in the dictionary so a trace of its former definition remains.

It is undeniable that these sub-set objects and their function are still positioned as questionable, dubious or taboo topics in the contemporary public domain. Paraphernalia could be a talisman type gadget, a bottle of oil, basically things that are usually judged as waste and excessive; divination odds and ends, items that are usually prone to healing, belief in auguries or tokens for predictions, occult gizmo's, bits and bobs, lace, teapots, crystals, incense, jars of herbs, dolls, herbs and amulets, drug paraphernalia, voodoo paraphernalia for spells, and general equipment to bring you great personal wealth often through playing lotteries or other games of chance. This paraphernalia combined produces some sort of transgressive power. In figure #2 we see a window display of bones, crosses, and ribbons that still aren't explained, strange syncretic juxtapositions that seems to be intrinsic to voodoo paraphernalia.

Figure .1 Voodoo paraphernalia

The Paraphernalia set of HID performance tools:

In response I have developed a set of real-time performance tools with an electro- acoustic design in a new work, *paraphernalia*. The main aim is to amalgamate unusual objects commonly seen as trash. I transform it, to act not only as a theatrical prop but as functional tactile sonic emulators. I embed dolls and curiosa with 2.4ghz wireless circuit boards from game-pads. Modified with analogue motion sensors, paraphernalia becomes a sensitive sonic object, a talisman that among other things, controls and triggers sound.

Figure .2 Voodoo paraphernalia

In figure 2. we see a doll that I found in a market in Sydney about 10 years ago, despite (or maybe because of ) its neglected condition, I was so enchanted I never threw it away. A few years when I came back to Europe I stuck it in my suitcase and carried it around with me. It now functions as a voice effects [FX] trigger. I embedded a 2.4ghz game-pad onto its back, and at tip of the right-wing there is a tilt sensor soldiered on. This allows the modification of voice when moved from 0 to 1.

'Commercial wireless game-pads or HIDs, are affordable and useful for musical applications as both gaming and music share one crucial requirement: immediate feedback'.[3] The sensors return signal values via the game-pad that communicates through 2.4 GHz receiver that plugs into the computer’s USB port. These Human Interface Device's (HIDs) interface with Pure Data, a live processing software programmed to switch through sound tracks, trigger voice effects (FX) and cause glitches, allowed by the information coming in from motion sensor.

This hardware-software application is built and designed for a live electronic act so that the performer, trained in a traditional sense, is not limited to being stuck behind the computer screen. The HIDs masquerade as paraphernalia, allowing a dynamic design where vocals and audio can be modified, moved, and distorted by a performing artist whose gestural action of the objects creates a theatrical illusion.

Figure. 3 * paraphernalia * glitch maker.


In Figure. 3 we see the * paraphernalia * glitch maker, where the gradual thumb sensors send values through the x and y scale to shift a signal around, these are programmed to cause a sound sample to bend its pitch repeatedly causing a mutation, break and repetition in the flow of a .wav file.

In *paraphernalia*I piece together odd things to perpetrate its mystery, but also give homage to the subjugated women's' history of paraphernalia. Further this hardware- software application is built and designed for a live electronic act so that the performer is not limited to being stuck behind the computer screen but is connected to the live action and responsible for it. In this way, Magnua Eriksson, and Rasmus Fleischer (2007), call for liveness in music as a crucial factor to be re-considered and re-validated in the age of digital media,

'what happens is that the concepts of live, communication, interactivity and per formability in themselves become transformed by technology. The main challenge is about how to widen our definition of the "live". How can music as a real- time experience be re-thought, as an aesthetic and an economic activity?[4]'


And I extend this question to 'how can the next genre of performance coincide with the paradigm shifts in electronic tools?' Malcolm McLaren hones in on emergent technologies and gadgets used in performance, and their specific relation to location. He talks enthusiastically for the 'new kind of folk music for the digital age', in relation to game pads as performance tools. 'Chip music...its makers the last possessors of the wand of Cinderella fairy godmother.'[6]

And I ask, how can the next genre of performance coincide with the paradigm shifts in electronic music? I am concerned with liveness and presence of a character in relation to these objects, that are obscured and exposed, unravelled and assembled and become a part of the dramatic action. I play with a virtual, but physical instrument. These embedded networked objects are spread around the stage and interface (via MIDI and HIDs) with Pure Data (Pd) software that allow for a comportment of a digital audio synthesis. I believe there is something so much more integrated in a performance about programming the software, or at least knowing the nuts and bolts of it because one intrinsically has a sense for the processes that are at play.


I felt like I was at the end of the world, but I also thought I could be happy here...


Is humanity in great danger of loosing its diversity? It has never been so possible to speak so convincingly of global civilization as it is today. For those of us in the metropoles are we becoming unable to discern with any clarity the manner in which our own perceptions and thoughts are being shifted by our sensory involvement with consumer electronic technologies? Baudrillard tragically writes, any thinking that seeks to discern such a shift is itself subject to the very effect that it strives to thematise, 'Illusion, dreams, passion, madness and drugs, but also artifice and simulacrum - these were reality's natural predators. They have all lost energy, as though struck down by some dark, incurable malady ( 2005: 27).' Nevertheless, with bricolage as a design approach, we may be more sure that the objects of our embodied thought are shifting in tandem with the technologies that in return engage our senses to our location.

From the perspective of a black-box performing artist, who also works with experimental media. My particular interest is try out new interfaces in computational media which have been a possibility all along but so far have not been really influenced by more popular or theatrical performing artists. I wonder why it is common that dancers working with technology in general often dis-articulate themselves from a notion of performance that acknowledges the audience or critical embodiment of character? I write in order to shed light how miniaturisation of computational media is opening up even new possibilities for new interfaces in performance and hope to have elaborated upon scope of how live electronic performance software is changing the way in which live electronic performance is categorised and presented. Especially how the practice of bricolage in performance allows the rot and beauty of life to seep through the cracks of this all too perfect digital world.

The practice of bricolage, is not only a tangible act of communication, its concept in media design questions the rigid and deeply rooted costumes of essentialist re- production, the prescribed identities and roles we are required to fit into to claim prizes of humanist sedation. Some people adequately question this without claiming that they are beyond representation or transcending the depths of social conditioning. The picture they reflect for me is not comforting but is still strangely beautiful and magic. The act of rationalising one's practice reduces its potential and completely negates this legacy of many peoples struggle to maintain this validity, which more adequately speaks of human form, that is ephemeral, not concrete, never quite what we think, to create the illusion of a life beyond the reality of the audience. If and when this radical critical self- interrogation takes place, suggested recently by Eriksson, and Fleischer (2007) the artist who uses the design model of bricolage will have the power to create new and different cultural productions, work that will be truly transgressive – acts of resistance that transform rather than simply seduce.


Figure 4. *paraphernalia* Voice modifier

And for me and my *paraphernalia * - an image comes to mind- on these desolate shores where the shipwreck of digital media has cast us, I would like to pick up pieces of the wreckage and play with them, at least until I find the wand of Cinderella fairy godmother...



This is a edited version of a much larger thesis that can be found at:

References: [0], Further, The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous EighteenthCentury ChessPlaying Machine by Tom Standage, Walker & Company, 2002. He vividly describes how The mysterious automaton captured the imagination of an 8 year old Charles Babbage among others.


[1]Acker, Kathy (1997) Bodies of Work:Essays. London: Serpents Tail.p.4

[2]Al-Khalidi, Alia (2001) 'Emergent technologies in menstrual paraphernalia in midnineteenth- century Britain', in Journal of Design History, Vol 14 No 4, pp 257-273. [3]Anderson, Kristina [online] 'Ensemble':playing with sensors and sound' Last checked June 22, 2007 OKEN=6184618

[4] Eriksson, Magnua and Fleischer Rasmus [online] 'Copies & contexts in the age of cultural abundance.' Last checked June 22, 2007

[5] Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind. Trans. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

[6] McLaren, Malcolm. [online] '8-Bit Punk' in Wired Magazine. Issue 11.11 | November. Last checked June, 21, 2007